I love a story; I love the tiny little details that add up to give you an insight in to a moment of some ones life. I also believe that one of the most true sayings is that ‘a picture can tell thousand words’, I am all for the perfectly posed Instagram shots but I am also for the those photos that are perfectly imperfect, those photos that at the time you did not realise you were creating a memory that would make you smile every time it popped up again, bringing back the laughs, the smells, the sounds of everything you were experiencing when it was taken. This recently happened to me when the above photo popped up when I was searching through photos, I often think of South Africa; that place stole my heart, most of the instant memories are those of the beautiful mischievous Baboons I worked with, the daily Elephant sightings, often a little too close for comfort or the Kruger National Park safari, but when this photo appeared on my screen I remembered this particular morning and how much it still makes me laugh.
I was in South Africa volunteering as a Veterinary Nurse at a Primate rehabilitation centre, part of my role along with the voluntary nurse was triaging the adult baboons that fell unwell during our time there. One particular baboon; Karl, became incredibly poorly and the decision was made that he needed to go the local Veterinary centre for more intensive treatment, the only problem being this was an adult wild baboon and the local surgery was roughly a thirty minute drive away. So with the baboon adequately sedated and safely secured in a carrier we transported him to the local surgery, with us Vet Nurses riding in the back of the truck (bakkie) with him. Karl was examined then left at the surgery, and that is when this story really begins.
One of the guys who runs the centre, informed us that we would be running some errands on our way back to save wasting a journey in to town, so not to miss out on a bit of tanning time, we stayed in the bakkie for the remainder of the journey. Now, the roads and laws in Phalaborwa are not quite the same as the UK, sitting unbelted in a bakkie is not allowed in the UK and I am sure it is would be even more frowned at 50mph, but honestly it was so much fun. Our first stop off was to collect one of the other employees from the store, pretty normal, until he casually proceeded to tell us that while he was waiting for our lift, he was standing next to tree from which a Black Mamba snake fell out of, on to the floor next to him. The Black Mamba is one of the most agile venomous snakes in the world, TIA! (This is Africa!).
A quick stop off at the local store and off we went again unsure of our next errand, we noticed we were driving in to local townships before we stopped at one particular house and started to reverse in down the tiny drive. However being in the bakkie, this means we were now facing forwards and being presented to local South African family who were all sitting in the back garden complete with make shift kitchen. I think I can say for both of us, that a moment of fear quickly over come us; all guide books will tell you not to wander around townships, let alone arrive in their garden in the back of the truck. However, the fear quickly turned in to a puzzled amusement as we realised we were their to collect fruit supplies for the baboons; the owner of the house ran a business of selling Marula fruit, he spends his days riding a bike around Marula trees with a scoop collecting the fallen fruit, to then be sold on for profit. This in itself I found incredible, but little did we know how much fruit he actually meant. The bags just kept on coming, slowly filling the bakkie higher and higher; while we stood their in puzzled amusement of where actually we would sit on the way home. By the time they had come to the end of end of the available supply the Marula fruit was pilled higher up to the edges of the bakkie, and the only place for us to sit? On a blanket placed over the top all the way home back to the centre.
We laughed so much as we said our goodbyes exiting the local’s garden even more oddly than we arrived, then started our journey back to the reserve, oddly no one else battered an eyelid as were paraded around town on a mountain of fruit. As we entered the reserve we spotted the wild Impala, Giraffe and Elephant as always, but desperately hoped that no wild baboons would decide to try their luck by stealing from the exposed target. After safely making it back to the centre, we were informed that we also stopped right next to a drive-by, which we were blissfully unaware of considering how exposed we were.
I laugh so much when I think of this story; I think I will every time I see the photo but along with the hilarity it was also an incredible insight in to the culture of the townships in South Africa and how business and tourism works on every level; because that man has created a lively hood from collecting and selling fruit to the local baboon rescue centre, food that is purchased from the money donated by volunteers that visit; creating a sustainable and responsible tourism on a completely different level to when you first look at it.